planktonrules

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Reviews

The Old West
(1952)

Enjoyable...though not quite a masterpiece for me.
"The Old West" is a Gene Autry film he made towards the tail end of his career. So, instead of the youthful guy you see in his early pictures, here he's a middle-aged cowboy hero.

The story begins with a religious service and soon a wagon master begins to narrate the story...letting you know what happened leading up to this meeting. It seems that the town has been lawless and full of riffraff for some time...all thanks to Doc (Lyle Talbot). This jerk wants to control everything...including who supplies the stage coach line with horses. And, ultimately this all comes down to 'the big race'...which is pretty much the theme of an earlier Roy Rogers film, "Man From Oklahoma".

The film has a sort of vague religious message that likely won't satisfy religious viewers but won't offend others. It's odd how a preacher in the film talks and talks and preaches...yet never mentions God or the Bible or anything that is actually religious! I understand why they did it...they didn't want to drive away viewers. But it also comes off as a bit hard to believe.

So is the rest of the film any good? Well, it's not bad...but certainly not a masterpiece. I noticed one reviewer called it this...and I'm glad they enjoyed it. But I just think Gene made far better films than this rather run of the mill picture.

Riders in the Sky
(1949)

A great opening song sets the stage for a nice western.
Due to the success of the song "Ghost Riders in the Sky", this Gene Autry was altered just before release...adding the popular song as well as changing a few scenes to include references to Ghost Riders. It is a terrific song...one of the best country western songs of the era.

Gene and his sidekick (Pat Buttram) have decided to buy their own spread and raise cattle after Gene inherits a small fortune. So, he quits his job with the City Attorney's office and is ready to begin his new life when a friend of his is convicted of murdering a gambler. Gene knows the guys involved and believes the defendant that he killed the man in self-defense. But another local gambler (Robert Livingston) is not about to let there be a real investigation because he is deeply involved in evil and corruption. Can Gene get to the bottom of all this and make things right?

The cast for this film is very familiar. Not only do you have Autry and one of his more popular sidekicks, but the film also has appearances by Gloria Henry (the mother on the "Dennis the Menace" TV show), Alan Hale Jr. (of "Gilligan's Island"), Hank Patterson (like Buttram, of "Green Acres") and Robert Livingston. Livingston is interesting as earlier in his career he played heroes in B-westerns, such as in the Three Mesquiteers series. Here, however, he's a baddie and he did play villains in some of his later movies.

So is this any good? Well, as I already mentioned, the opening song was one of Autry's best. As for the acting and writing, the biggest weakness I noticed was Gloria Henry's character. Like too many women in B-westerns, she is inexplicably angry and argues a lot with Autry...even though he's done absolutely nothing wrong. I've seen this in too many other westerns and it is a bit of a cliché. It does, sadly, weaken the story a bit. Otherwise, it's a pretty decent western with a reasonably interesting story. If she'd been less angry, I would have scored this one a 6.

Goldtown Ghost Riders
(1953)

Older Autry, older villains and supporting characters.
"Goldtown Ghost Riders" is one of Gene Autry's last films. By the time he made it, Autry was 46 and looked it. This is not meant as an insult to Autry...he just wasn't the mid-20s hero any more and I could see why he called it quits soon after this film...at least until he did a special glorifying cowboys in the 1980s. It's funny that in "Goldtown Ghost Riders" to make Autry seem less old, all the supporting cast was MUCH older than usual...and many of them older than Autry!

Shortly after the film begins, Autry arrests a man for murder. But there's a problem...the man ALREADY was arrested, convicted AND served time for murdering the same man! Obviously, he never did kill the man long ago...so legally, prosecuting the man for murder again is problematic.

Much of the film consists of a long flashback explaining the things that led up to the original murder conviction. It has something to do with a scheme between the convicted man and his supposed victim to convince everyone that Goldtown is a gold-rich place...even though they realize it isn't. Later, they invent the notion of ghosts to explain some of their own doings!

Somehow these scams led to the killing...or supposed killing which occurred while Gene was the judge. What's next? See the film.

Because of the way the film is constructed, Gene is a bit less of the focus of the story as usual. However, as usual, he sings some times, punches some baddies, hangs out with Smiley Burnett, and makes everything right by the end....pretty much what you'd expect from an Autry movie. But with a bit less action and a complicated plot, it's not among his better films. A decent time passer, though.

In Fast Company
(1946)

Enjoyable if you have a high tolerance for the Bowery Boys!
The second of four dozen Bowery Boys films made from the 1940s well in the 1950s. However, although I enjoy their films, I will be quick to admit that their humor is far from subtle or sophisticated...and occasionally, it's just downright bad. Because of this, my wife usually leaves the room when I put on their films...but in this case she mostly sat with me...making faces during much of the movie!

In this installment, Slip (Leo Gorcey) agrees to help an out of work independent cab driver. His local priest ENCOURAGES him to help out...and risking the fires of Hell, Mahoney drives a cab. But soon he realizes HOW the driver got hurt, as the competition is very violent and dirty and will do just about anything to stop any competition. See the film and see how he and the gang handle these goons.

In many ways, this film is like a reworking of the old James Cagney movie "Taxi"...with some humor and hijinks added to it. And, it's pretty much what you'd expect from Gorcey, Huntz Hall and the rest....which, for some is pleasant entertainment and for others, a migraine lasting a little over an hour. I'd say this one is about average for the franchise...maybe slightly better.

White Bondage
(1937)

A film only Warner Brothers would have made.
"White Bondage" is a reworking of the script for "Cabin in the Cotton" and it's most unusual because it's actually BETTER than the original film...even if the original starred Bette Davis!

As for the plot, it's a sort of film only Warner Brothers would have made, as they were a studio that favored making films about working class people and real world problems...something many other studios of the day (particularly MGM avoided). It fits in fine with other Warners products of the 30s such as "I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang", "Crime School" and "Wild Boys of the Road"...all films intended to address social issues of the day.

This story is set in the rural south and is all about how the local landowners are robbing the poor sharecroppers. Mis-weighing cotton, company stores that charge exorbitant prices and one-sided contracts are all being used in order to squeeze every dime from the sharecroppers...and a newspaper reporter is there undercover to expose the racket. The problem is that the land owner and his family are clever and evil...and most of the sharecroppers are ignorant and poor...and are easily manipulated. How does this happen? And, what becomes of this form of bondage?

I loved this film. It was very well made, the script was right on target and the film is among the best Bs I've ever seen. A very intelligent film that holds up amazingly well today.

Drug Stories!
(2018)

Funny at first...but rather dull after a while.
This collection of anti-drug commercials and public service videos is from Something Weird Video, a company that sells all sorts of strange DVDs...including some old porno films, exploitation films and harmless junk. Oddly, it was shown on TCM and it still bore the Something Weird label.

The film begins with a commercial that got me into a bit of trouble when I was only about 5. The anti-drug ad, though well made, encouraged me and my friend, Karl, to become drug dealers...and we were giving out jellybeans and repeating the dealer's spiel in the ad! Obviously the ad did NOT have its intended effect since it just encouraged us to WANT to be drug dealers! This is likely what the rest of the films in this collection often did, as although they are packed full of good information, there's quite a bit of misinformation as well.

As for the quality of the prints, they vary a lot but are mostly poor...scratchy, faded or with out of whack colors. Considering the films were never meant to last very long, it's not surprising they were allowed to degrade.

Overall, a film that is mildly interesting but after a while the repeated anti-drug messages really became dull and repetitive.

Submarine Raider
(1942)

A cheapie propaganda flick from Columbia.
When the US entered WWII, Hollywood's studios suddenly became ultra-patriotic and they made a ton of propaganda films aimed at bolstering the war effort. Some were very good...a few were very poor...such as "Submarine Raider".

The story begins just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Soon after you see a Japanese aircraft carrier heading towards Hawaii, the ship blows up a nearby yacht and then sends a fighter plane out to strafe the survivors. What they don't realize is that an American submarine is nearby...and the captain of the ship is baffled as to why the carrier would attack a yacht. However, they soon get word that this and other Japanese carriers just attacked Pearl Harbor...and so the captain is determined to find the carrier and destroy it.

The basic story isn't bad and much of the acting decent. However, it's essentially a cheap B from Columbia and the Japanese are essentially cartoonish (such as pilots who laugh hysterically while bombing civilians) and their airplanes defy all the rules of aeronautics...such that if they REALLY could have flown this way (making tight u-turns, landing every second or two on the carrier, etc.) they would have won the war in a month! Additionally, the film promotes the commonly accepted myth that evil spies ('fifth columnists') abounded in Hawaii and this laid the groundwork for folks in the US accepting the internment of the Japanese-Americans.

Overall, a real mixed bag. The crew of the sub consists of some decent actors but one-dimensional writing make this a film that simply hasn't aged well.

America's National Parks
(2022)

Absolutely gorgeous and well made...but will there be more?
Recently, five wonderful episodes of this series were released to the Disney Channel and it sure left me wanting more. Much of it is because I have only visited two of the five parks and I enjoyed watching the other three to plan some upcoming trips. Why did I enjoy it so much? Well, the cinematography is insanely good....among the best you'll find in any nature documentary...about on par with the "Planet Earth" series. I loved how the show really emphasized the animals you might encounter in the parks. I also was surprised at how good Garth Brooks' voice was, as I just didn't expect him to sound so professorial! Well worth seeing and at times breathtaking.

Oh Darling!
(1930)

I couldn't help but think that this should have been funnier.
Educational films honeymooners--father threatens to shoot hubby and arrives at same hotel, jealous husband.

When the story begins, a young couple has eloped and arrive at a hotel. The bride's parents soon arrive...and the father had threatened to shoot the man who elopes with his daughter...though they don't know the newlyweds are there. Another couple is quarrelling and the husband is the jealous type. And, as you watch, you just know that the three families will all have a major falling out in the hotel.

This is a short from Educational Pictures, a company that made mostly indifferently funny comedies for Fox. There were a few exceptions, but generally their output was not up to the quality of much of the competition...particularly Hal Road Studios.

While the folks in the film were not known for comedy, including John Litel was odd as he was never the least bit funny in his later pictures. Not surprisingly, as a result the film just wasn't very funny and they ended up doing very little with the nice set-up. The only part I really did like was the big confrontation scene between the groom and his father-in-law...that was cute.

Oh! What a Day!
(1923)

An enjoyable outing.
"Oh! What a Day!" is a film based on the Andy Gump comic strip and in the 1920s Universal Studios made about four dozen of them. I've only seen this one but it's enjoyable and fun...and it made me want to see more.

The film is introduced by the comic strip illustrator, Sidney Smith. What follows is a day out for the Gumps to the beach. Not surprisingly, again and again, they make a mess of things...particularly Andy. And, like he did in the strips, he frequently yells for his wife, Min, when he gets into trouble. A few of the gags are limp, but there are so many that some are guaranteed to make you chuckle. Overall, a fun little film which is a bit better than the average comedy short of the era.

The Heart Snatcher
(1920)

While the plot is very thin, it is modestly funny
"The Heart Snatcher" is a frenetically paced film from Fox Films with very little in the way of plot. Jack Cooper essentially goes through the film causing trouble and practically every slapstick gag you could imagine is heaped into the film. It has so many gags so often that after a while you don't mind how mindless it all is. You'll see lots of folks bonking each other on the head, explosions, police chases, the extensive use of Chloroform, and much more. You'll even see a bad cliche of the era...a person in black face. All in all, a fun film simply because of its pacing and HUGE number of gags....though you could do better.

Fifty-Fifty
(1922)

Felix is given the shaft...not the 50-50 split he was promised.
Back in 1922, films were truly silent and if any music accompanied them, it was provided by the local theater in the form of a live organ or piano. However, after the sound era came, many old silent cartoons were re-released with music and, often, sound effects. "Fifty-Fifty" is a Felix the Cat cartoon where a musical score was later added...though there are no sound effects.

The story begins with a car breaking down...and it turns out it's because Felix is hiding in the engine. He soon meets up with a hobo and the pair agree to be friends and split everything 50-50. However, again and again, Felix brings his new friend food and drink and the bum eats and drinks it all! Obviously the bum isn't splitting things at all. What's poor Felix to do?! How will he get his revenge?

During the 1920s, Felix the Cat was probably the biggest and most popular cartoon star. Despite the very simple drawings and backgrounds, the films were entertaining...just like this one. Why? Because they had a nice sense of humor...and I recommend you try this one.

Fresh Fish
(1922)

This Bobby Bumps cartoon is a lot like the Fleischer Brothers' Koko films.
Throughout the 1920s, the Fleischer Brothers made a series of very entertaining Koko cartoons. In these shorts, Koko the Clown interacts with the real world...and most often with the animator, Max Fleischer. Apparently, the makers of the Bobby Bumps series liked this format and copied it in "Fresh Fish"....and it's very much unlike other Bobby Bumps cartoons I have seen as they do not have Bobby interacting with the outside world.

Instead of Max, this cartoon features a live action boy who is trying to make a film using Bobby and his dog. Bobby goes fishing...but the live action boy's cat steals the fish! And so, Bobby's cartoon dog leaves the picture and searches for the live cat. After this, again and again, the pair interact with the outside world...such as when they fall into a bucket and experience a flood. It's all very enjoyable but certainly NOT original...nor are the laughs as hard as you'd get in most Koko stories. Enjoyable, but familiar.

The Farmer and His Cat
(1922)

One of the most heartless and disturbing cartoons I've seen...and I've seen a lot!
I love early animation and have seen far more than most people. I mention this because despite my experience, I was genuinely shocked as I watched, as it's the most cruel and sadistic of short cartoons! Even in 2022, it's shocking to say the least!

When this Paul Terry cartoon begins, the cat (who looks a lot like Felix) is out making a racket at night. Farmer Alfalfa is furious and later catches the cat. Now here's where it gets pretty sick...he takes the cat to be gassed by the local dog catcher who is tossing all sorts of animals into a machine that kills them! Farmer Alfalfa's response when the kat is killed? He laughs hysterically!! At the end, the cat, somehow, returns!!!

I just cannot imagine the reaction by the audience to this short! Kids in the audience must have been horrified and parents a bit baffled! I just can't see this as entertaining and wonder who came up with such a disturbing plot. You have to see this to believe it!

Birthday
(1922)

Not among Koko's best.
In the 1920s, Koko the Clown was one of the most popular cartoon characters. And, when you see most of the Koko films today, you can certainly understand his popularity, as the films are extremely clever and funny. Unfortunately, of the several dozen Koko films I've seen, this is one of the weaker ones...though it's still funny and well worth seeing.

Unlike most other Koko shorts, Koko himself is not a mischievous jerk. Instead, most of the cartoon consists of Max (Max Fleischer, the director of the cartoons) messing with his character. First, he draws all sorts of silly hats on Koko, then his introduces fireworks! Eventually, Koko is so flustered he leaves the drawing and eventually runs back to his inkwell.

I think the best Koko films have a great give and take between the cartoon character and his animator. Here, however, Koko always seems to be on the receiving end and as a result, it's a bit flat by comparison.

By the way, the version I saw was the 1930 reissue which included music and sound effects...a common practice in the early days of sound.

The Great Cheese Robbery
(1920)

One of several Krazy Kat cartoons of the era...but not among the very best.
"The Great Cheese Robbery" is a cartoon based on the very popular Krazy Kat cartoon strip of the day.

The story begins with Ignatz the mouse going to burgle some cheese. His friend, Krazy Kat, investigates and unfortunately is caught by the police who think he's the cheese thief. At first, Ignatz thinks this is funny...though eventually his conscience begins to bother him. All the things in his house seem to come to life and begin accusing him of being a jerk...which he is. As a result, the mouse has a change of mind and goes to Krazy Kat's assistance.

The animation is about average for 1920 and compares favorably to Felix the Cat and other cartoons of the day. Not brilliant but well worth seeing if you love early animation.

Cartoons in a Seminary
(1915)

Cute.
Like most animated films of the 1910s, this one features live action as well as some animated sequences. Its animation is simple and black & white...typical of an early cartoon.

A man sneaks onto the property of a girls school to see his sweetheart. However, he must hide or the mistress of the school will catch him. What she finds at first is the guy's comic paper...and you see the characters come to life and the story is cute. Later, the jig is up...and the young man is caught!

While the film is good, the animation is only fair to average for a cartoon of the 1910s. But for lovers of early animation, it is a must-see.

The Artist's Dreams
(1913)

For it's time, a delightful cartoon
My score of 8 is relative to other animation from this era. This is because you really cannot compare cartoons from the 1910s to those of the 1940s and 50s...the real golden age of animation.

Much of this cartoon is live action and the rest is animation. It begins with an artist showing another one his latest drawing...a dog sleeping next to a dresser. At the top of the dresser is a sausage and when the men leave, the dog comes to life and steals the sausage. What's next? Well it's pretty dark...but funny.

The animation is simple...the norm for 1913. But the story is quite charming and well worth seeing.

Ramona
(1928)

A very progressive film...at least in some ways.
"Ramona" is a very well made yet incredibly depressing film. I mention this because sometimes you just aren't in the mood for such a sad film...and other times you are. Think about this before you watch it.

The story is in many ways a very progressive film in the way it portrays Native Americans and tries to tell a story decrying the evils of bigotry. It's odd then that like other films of the era, the 'Indian' leading character is played by a white guy. This was NOT uncommon...other folks (such as Richard Dix in "The Vanishing American") often played Indians in American movies. So, it's a film that is like two steps forward...and one step back...but it's still well worth seeing.

Ramona (Delores del Rio) is a woman who was adopted by a rich, aristocratic Spanish family in old California. The family matriarch is set on having Ramona marry her son...which by today's standards is a bit creepy. Ramona does care for Felipe...but she eventually falls for Alessandro (Warner Baxter) and when she announces she's marrying him, she's tossed out of the home.

In the following years, all sorts of awful things happen to Ramona and her new hubby. While they seem quite happy, eventually Ramona's mind snaps...and based on all the horrible things done to them, you can certainly understand why. Is there any hope for the now demented Ramona?

It's obvious that United Artists really put a lot of money into the film. While still a silent, it came out with a synchronized sound track and has stunning cinematography. A gorgeous...and depressing film.

By the way, occasionally some of the acting was exaggerated (even for a silent) but the real star, to me, wasn't del Rio nor Baxter but the woman who played the evil mother, Vera Lewis. She was pretty amazing and her face told 1001 emotions...most of which were pretty nasty! As for the film's ending...it did seem a bit weak, though the rest of it was rather amazing.

Irving Thalberg: Prince of Hollywood
(2005)

Not perfect....mostly because a biography about Thalberg could easily be MUCH longer.
"Irving Thalberg: Prince of Hollywood" is a 75 minute biography about the life of Irving Thalberg, the genius producer who had an amazing knack with perfecting films. While I have no major complaints about the documentary and am glad I saw it, there is one problem with it...75 minutes is just too short for a man as important to the film industry as Thalberg. As a result, you get most of the important facts but a few of his achievements and personal life are omitted. I really think the minimum you could devote to this subject is to make the movie twice as long...then you can talk about more of his film successes, a few more important actors to him (a couple omissions are mentioned in the IMDB trivia) as well as his being Jewish and the impact it had on his films. Overall, a must for old movie buffs...I just wish it had been longer.

The Flying Fool
(1929)

Sad to see Hoppy COULD make a bad film after all!
I am a HUGE Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd) fan and think he was the greatest of all the B-western stars. His Hoppy films are consistently entertaining and likable. That being said, he had an established career well before this--starring in numerous silent and sound films. I really like most of these non-Hoppy roles but was sadly disappointed in "The Flying Fool" as it was a genuinely bad film...both due to writing and Boyd's acting.

When the film begins, Bill is a cocky but very talented fighter plane pilot during WWI. Soon the film skips ahead to the 1920s and Bill makes a living as a barnstormer...a pilot that thrills crowds with dangerous flying stunts. He also is accompanied by his brother, Jimmy. He is like a mother, father and best buddy for Jimmy and the lesson he seems to keep pressing on the impressionable young man is that women are a dime a dozen...love 'em and leave 'em! Clearly, Bill is a bit of a jerk here...and ultimately, Jimmy ignores his brother's advice and falls for a lady...and the film then plummets in quality.

In addition to bad writing and poor acting by Boyd as Bill, the film really had a bizarre and silly ending. In many ways, although the film was A-picture length, its writing seemed like a B-movie...and not a particularly good one.

Madame Spy
(1942)

An illogical but enjoyable propaganda film.
By 1942, the once big star, Constance Bennett, was no longer a box office draw and was making less and less prestigious films following her glory days in the 1930s. Evidence of this is "Madame Spy", a cheap B-movie that was, frankly, beneath her talents.

When the story begins, a famous war correspondent, David Bannister (Don Porter), meets and marries Joan (Bennett). They seem very happy and she follows him about the globe covering the war. However, after a while, Joan behaves oddly and David begins to wonder if his wife might actually be an Axis spy!!

The story is illogical. I'd say more but it would betray the big plot twist...something that really didn't catch very many folks by surprise. It also is WAY over the top as a preachy propaganda movie (it probably made some HATE the war effort instead of getting behind it). However, I must also admit that the movie IS entertaining...if a bit silly.

Idaho Kid
(1936)

Surprisingly good.
"Idaho Kid" stars Rex Bell, an actor who was most famous for marrying Clara Bow. Here, he does what he usually did in films...playing in B-westerns.

The story begins with a young man holding up a stage. Our hero, 'Idaho' (Bell), soon finds the kid and convinces him to return the money...which he soon does. Now, no longer in trouble, the kid becomes Idaho's best buddy and sidekick. Soon, however, the young guy is shocked that Idaho signs on to work for Hollister, a REAL jerk and tough guy. Why would a heroic type like Idaho go to work for such a man? And, what is Idaho's connection with the jerk's enemy, the Endicott family? And, who is Idaho REALLY??

I appreciated how this western was NOT a typical story. Normally, most B-westerns have one of about three different plots...and this one manages to be a bit different. It also helped that Bell was really good and showed a nice emotional range. So, despite being a cheaply made film, it is quite entertaining and showed even the likes of Rex Bell could make a dandy film...not just the big stars like Gene Autry or Roy Rogers.

The Deadly Bees
(1966)

Not a horrible premise...but it's not handled very well either.
"The Deadly Bees" is a British horror film whose screenplay was written by Robert Bloch...a most gifted writer. He's responsible for films such as "Psycho" and "Strait-Jacket" as well as many episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents". Sadly, Bloch is not at his best with this film...and poor direction didn't help the story any.

The story is set on some craptastic island. A series of deaths occur and in each case, they were stung to death by enormous ultra-nasty bees. The film CONSTANTLY tries to paint one guy as the beekeeping culprit but it soon becomes very obvious who really is the king of the bees! Plus, at the end, he stupidly tells someone what he's doing...a completely unnecessary and silly twist.

In addition to an obvious villain, the film suffers from one big problem....it's pretty dull. How can a film about swarms of killer bees be dull? Well, having a rather dim leading character didn't help, but the pacing sure didn't help either. Overall, not terrible...but a lot less interesting than you'd expect.

By the way, at the beginning of the movie, a musical group called 'The Birds' (not to be confused with The Byrds...a more famous group) performs...and a very young Ron Wood (of later Rolling Stones fame) is among the musicians.

The Light Touch
(1951)

Not one of Granger's better films...thanks to the script.
"The Light Touch" is one of many Italian films made during the 1950s-70s which starred English speaking actors. Often they were American and often they were British...such as Stewart Granger and George Sanders in this one. Sadly, while both are fine actors, the script just isn't very good.

Shortly after the film begins, Sam (Granger) steals a valuable painting. It's quite easy...too easy. However, he has silent partners in the caper (I'm not sure why, as he does everything himself) and he doesn't want to share, so he arranges an accident and tells them the painting was burned. They, of course, don't believe him and he claims he can get a talented artist (Pier Angeli) to make a copy and they can sell that.

While the setup isn't terrible, the film really isn't good. This is because Sam is a career criminal and clearly a sociopath...but by the end of the story he has a change of heart and returns the stolen painting...much like the end of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". Now this ending worked with the Seuss book because it was written for kids...but such a trite ending in this film really ruins it.

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